Emergency Contraception – The Raging Trend in Pakistan

Women have naturally been assigned the reproductive role. It is our shining glory – the many ranks women get entitled to because of being vessels to carry life are enshrined in religions acro…

Source: Emergency Contraception – The Raging Trend in Pakistan

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Pak Army Rebuilding Peace ?

#PakArmyRebuildingPeace has been trending on twitter. It makes one ponder on the actual role of the military and our perception of it. The trend itself was reflective of the peacebuilding efforts of the Pakistan Army. It contributed to glorifying the army while appreciating its efforts at our borders and within our borders. The trend in itself is harmless but the narrative which it propagates needs serious thought. Is peacebuilding the military’s role? If not, why is military taking it up and furthermore why is our democratic society ok with this?

Across the globe military’s prime role is defense – ensuring the nation-state stays intact and unbreeched from aggressors. Military is also activated for search and rescue missions and assistance in emergencies and provision of humanitarian aid. In Pakistani context; military and democracy have been in a power struggle for most of the country’s life. (Fun Fact: If you google martial law; almost all entries on the first page come up with Pakistan in them followed by a couple regarding Trump).

So, coming back to the question – is peacebuilding the military’s job? There exists a variety of literature on how military can contribute to peacekeeping and be part of peace missions – however peacebuilding seems to fall within the civil authority arena. Pakistan’s context is very different – not only because our power corridors have evolved under years of military rule but also because of inept democratic governance (representatives and structures). We want democracy, but we also want the military to be pleased with whatever we democratically do – if that isn’t done the political price associated with it is too high to pay. We want military to take charge of cities to ensure peace, we also want military to train our cricket team so that they are fit enough to win. And since civil departments are not able to maintain law and order within the country we have the National Action Plan and the terrorist courts – so let’s just say that democracy single wheels while military is tasked to stabilize and damage control. Our ideal being that, single wheeling should be fined and democracy should be the stabilizing agent.

The military knows what power tastes like, knows the capacities/performance of the democracy – is well resourced and is amongst the strongest military forces in the world. Military also responds to the ever so frequent cries for help from civil institutions. So now again; is peace building the job of the military? Ideally, still no – while military’s role is to purge the homeland of aggressors and keep the peace – the civil authorities should step in and take charge to build the peace. Since the military frequently steps in matters which should swiftly and effectively be dealt by civil authorities – it is seen as the role of the military. Since military is able to take up that role – it starts gaining communal acceptance and we tread further towards maybe permanent militarization of our society without even realizing it. This is when we cultivate beliefs which make it unpatriotic to question the military budget or to God forbid slash it for societal well-being (which may include capacity building of civil authorities). This is not to undermine the capacity, courage and role of the military but a call to bump up the capacity (and commitment) of the democratic representatives and structures. We should thank our veterans for their services as we should thank police, judges and teachers. Glory aside, no institution funded by taxpayers should be immune to critique.

The ‘war on terror’ is an amorphous phenomenon and Pakistan being much affected by it will mean more work for the military and atop that more relegated work for the military given the present trends. The heated debates on the reinstating terrorist courts is an example of this. The civil institution whose power could be relegated in this case is the judiciary – a core pillar of democracy.

The acceptability of a phenomenon can be easily seen in public narrative and #PakArmyBuildingPeace is a strong message for those who want to open their eyes to it.

The principle of political control of the military should be rooted within democracy as civilian institutions should be supreme. This delicate balance needs to be maintained for robust defense and effective and continued democratic governance.

Emergency Contraception – The Raging Trend in Pakistan

Women have naturally been assigned the reproductive role. It is our shining glory – the many ranks women get entitled to because of being vessels to carry life are enshrined in religions across the globe. The function of reproduction makes races flourish or dwindle. Though sacred and wondrous –  women mostly aren’t recognized for the toll that reproduction in itself takes on them. Moreover, reproduction and family planning are not seen as a collective responsibility/ burden and there is a way around almost every situation for the burden to reach the woman. This is slowly improving but we still have a long way to go!

If a woman isn’t fertile enough to line up heirs she is socially stripped of the ‘glory badges’ which fertile women can only have. If the pace of reproduction isn’t right; it is also the woman’s issue – either she has nothing to do but to make babies so she remains pregnant year in and year out (also she is much less fun as she conceives too quickly) or she doesn’t care enough to give a substantially sized family to her husband. And if she does not want to reproduce – ummm wait WHAT?

If you are a middle-aged woman living in Pakistan today who is fairly networked in with other women; you undoubtedly know of quite a few interesting cases pertaining to reproduction, contraception or the lack thereof and how in our daily lives we are making the most controversial pro-choice or pro-life decisions. This blog is not a moral yardstick to judge any choice as contexts differ and this tackles a highly personal matter. However, it does narrate how not using contraception effectively affects a family’s health and well-being and how in most cases women alone carry the burden which shouldn’t be there in the first place.

Its public knowledge that the emergency contraception pill (also known as the day after pill) is becoming ragingly popular – and it is available over the counter – costs around PKR 15 (less than 15 cents). It is also widely known that medication which can be used to abort up till 12 weeks of pregnancy is also available over the counter commonly – prices around 350 PKR (3.18 EUR) and less. It is also public knowledge that both these types of medications get sold and used often. Common sense deduces that the more popular these pills get, the less popular the small square boxes of external contraception in the lower shelves of the pharmacies get.  In the absence of effective contraception majority cases witness women having to undertake emergency contraception or measures to ‘deal with it’ which can impact women’s fertility, health and the family’s health. Medications used to ‘deal with the problem later’ overdose the body with hormones and make the environment non-conducive for the fetus/fertilized egg to sustain. Regular use of these medications is not recommended and has various side effects. Many a times there are gynecologists involved –some doctors say a firm no to ‘dealing with anything’ – others are a tad more flexible. I won’t even touch on the unsafe abortions administered by pretend doctors in quiet/not-so quiet set-ups which can result in complications.

With advances in technology and family planning/birth spacing gaining importance there is a wide variety of contraceptives available in the market (urban and rural). So naturally one questions why the use of emergency contraception and abortion pills is on the rise? One of the major reasons quoted is over chit chats is men not being willing to use contraception – and of course a woman objecting would be sacrilegious! Being out of contraceptives, ineffective use of contraceptives, wrong calculation of ovulation cycles, nonconsensual relationships or accidents also feature in citations. The incidents of not using contraception despite not wanting to reproduce seems on the rise because we can visualize the little 15 rupee pills which will make everything right. If all fails – we can invest rupees 350 or see the flexible doctor.

Whatever the case a realization of collective responsibility and making the right choices seems imperative for the overall health and well-being of women and families. A shout out for all the couples we know whose last child came like 8 years after everyone (including them) thought the family is complete…. And for everyone else; better safe than sorry folks!

Vendetta on Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s day evolved from Christian tradition (big surprise – it isn’t jewish!). While the origins and details about Saint Valentine are still shrouded in mystery; the celebration of Valentine’s Day overtime became associated with romance and love. With the world becoming a global village and cross cultural exchange Valentine’s day has gained popularity in Pakistan over the past years.

 This year the court has banned celebration of Valentine’s Day across the country in response to a private petition which claims that valentine’s day “in cover of spread of love in fact, immorality, nudity and indecency is being promoted which is against our rich culture.” I would be interesting to understand how the charges were proved as they can come across as being pretty subjective and the perception may highly vary from person to person.

I am perplexed that we have such strong reactions to something like Valentine’s day on the pretext of religion and culture; while our culture is the shadow of the subcontinent’s culture long before the two-nation theory was coined. Makes one wonder why dowry, social injustice, corruption, violence, crime, discrimination and rituals observed at births, weddings and deaths are just overlooked without the application of ‘our rich culture’ and religion lens.

It feels like we are back in the sub-continent unable to see why we need to learn English or why dressing in pants or coats isn’t sinful or why children should be educated for that matter. A restriction imposed by the court and its subsequent implementation will doubtfully touch/affect the celebrations but it is indicative of how we perceive a certain phenomenon – in this case Valentine’s day – a threat to our culture and religion (as evidenced by protests by certain groups over the years). This needlessly makes one wonder from where the walls of our religion and culture are so weak that we will succumb to promotion of nudity, immorality and indecency just because shops have red displays, food/drinks at eateries are subsidized and the rose-market is flourishing.

We deem a day ‘western’ or a product of the north which threatens to colonize/overpower us but we welcome all other north south exchanges with open arms; trade, aid, technological transfers, educational scholarships, skill exchange programmes and many other collaborations. It is sheer hypocrisy that we are angered at the extremism and intolerance of conservative political leadership across the world when we ourselves cannot be tolerant of or cannot even trust our culture and religion to withstand attempts of straying us in cover of promoting love.

We are asking for a Haya Day to instill values within our social fabric – the values which should assumedly form the core of societal fabric. Seems like we need to look inwards much more than we need to look outwards and gauge where we ourselves stand as individuals, families and nation?

I am not advocating for or against Valentine’s Day but the fact that a court stepped up to ban the proceedings, the president is encouraging foregoing it and PEMRA is regulating all content to make it Valentine Day free seems a lot of effort to react/curb just another day -Why so serious?